Aug 16, 2011

What We Learned

Natalie: What I have learned

I’ve learned many things here on this trip to Medellín; I learned about my family, my heritage, displaced families (I had no idea what they were before I came here), the way people my age here live their lives, and how last year’s DukeEngagers managed to survive here. But the main thing I learned here is that paisas are the most selfless, giving and caring people I’ve ever met in my life. Having a Colombian family was weird to understand in the States. You don’t understand why people act the way they do unless you’ve been to the place where they all act that way. So finally coming here was like a light turned on in a confusing, mysterious part of my brain.
I don’t want to constantly bore you with my self-discovering journey here, but it truly is that way. I can’t change the fact that although I’m learning about this culture, I seem to have also naturally become comfortable with it all. Having a unique experience like this, where it’s only the second time I’ve left the country, would technically mean I’m not worldly or cultured. But having a taste of the Colombian spirit in my life while I was in the United States prepared me a little for what I would face so many years later here in Medellín.
I also learned that running on Colombian time at some point in your life is good for the soul. We’re all really uptight in the States, let’s all admit that. We’re constantly running to and from, getting everything done on a timely manner. If you’re even two minutes late for a dinner date with your friends, they’ll call you, asking, “Where the hell are you?” Here, it doesn’t matter if you’re two minutes late or two hours late. At some point, you’ll all be together, and it makes you not take people or things for granted.
It’s unbelievably crazy that it’s almost all over with. This doesn’t mean we can’t return, but the things we did here, the people we met, the food we ate, the things we saw, all of it was such an experiential education (we learned by doing). We did, we learned, we loved, we worked, we took in all we could. What an unforgettable experience we’ll always take through life. Gracias, Medellín

Kendall: An Education

Before I came to Medellín, I thought I had had a tough year.  I thought I knew what resilience was, what it meant to be a fighter.  What I learned here is that I knew absolutely nothing about the meanings of those words.  In the field, I spent hours listening to families in Moravia explain very simply that they did whatever was necessary to survive.  They shared their life stories with me, and many of the events of their pasts made me feel grateful for my hardships, because they were in fact extremely mild. 
Maria Elena Alcaraz taught me the meaning of resilience.  To her, it meant struggling to build a home for her children, only to see it demolished in front of her eyes, twelve times over.  That is resilience.  Maria Gomez taught me that fighting meant taking a shovel or rake and digging through an actual mountain of decomposing trash, day in and day out, searching for scraps of materials to recycle or use to support her family.  That is strength. 
My eyes have been opened to the true meaning of words like perseverance and creativity.  Jhoneth Castillo taught me the meaning of perseverance.  To her it meant knowing she deserved a better life than one of abuse, and setting out to create her own independent life, even if it meant being alone in a new city, begging on the street until she learned a trade, and then working night and day to support herself.  Perseverance, in her life, was searching for her love across armies and paramilitary groups, entering intimidating camps and pleading with ruthless armed leaders.  It meant petitioning for the release of her child’s father constantly, enduring threats and vilification, until he was finally in her arms.  It meant never giving up until she accomplished her goals, whether the goal was freedom, reunion, education, or employment. 
Ligia Castaño taught me what it means to be creative.  She has three bright young boys in school, but needed a way to pay for their education.  She didn’t have any money or resources, so she used her creativity.  She collected plastic bags from grocery stores and shopping centers, cut them into long strips, and then used the knowledge of sewing wool that her grandmother passed down to her and applied it to the plastic strips, sewing different colors of together into purses with intricate designs.  She made a business, and found a way to make ends meet, even with seemingly nothing at her disposal.  That is creativity. 
I thought I understood from books and classes these simple vocabulary words.  But I had no idea.  My experiences in Medellín have impacted my perspective and thought process immensely.  I have received a true, memorable education here.  The women of Moravia, their families, and their histories have educated me in a way that can’t be qualified with a diploma or degree, but in a way that will undoubtedly shape my attitude and path for the future.

When we got this weeks theme for the blog post, I could think of so many simple things I’ve learned here in Medellín but at the same time I wanted to find write about something that will stay with me forever. Yes, I’ve learned how to open three different locks just to get into my apartment. I’ve learned to try any fruit that is given to me for breakfast and always finish my meals, even if it’s cow tongue. I learned to use imovie, to take family portraits and how to use a flip camera. I’ve learned that plans will be made at the last minute and people will show up late. I’ve also learned a lot about myself during these past two months in Colombia. This trip was my ‘test run’ to see if I could handle being far away from my family and I feel pretty confident that I did okay. Going to a university 10 minutes away from my house allows me to see my family very often and eat lots of home cooked meals. I’ve missed them a lot on this trip, but I’ve also come to realize that I can survive without them. I can ask for a taxi and tell when they’ve missed the turn into Carlos E. I can attempt to budget my money and make sure my room is organized. I can take freezing cold showers and even bucket showers! But most importantly on this trip, I’ve learned how to listen. I listened to families tell me their struggles before living in Medellín. They shared with me their hopes and dreams and I just listened. They welcomed me into their homes and told me of their accomplishments, and I listened. I will always remember these stories and these families. They helped me learn how to truly listen.

Lydia Rose:
I’ve had many guides/teachers/helpers here in Colombia who have imparted their share of wisdom to me—too many to name, honestly, from my cogestores to my compañeros, my host family to the families I interviewed, and everyone else in between.  But there are some rather unexpected teachers who I’d like to thank now—my Dukies.  You may not think of yourself as qualified for teaching, but you’ve each imparted many a useful lesson to me in our two months here. 

First of all, Jess! Don’t think you can weasel your way out of our group so easily.  As my work pareja, I learned a ton from you even though we only had one month together. In fact, your leaving taught us all how much we can’t take anything for granted.  We miss your crazy, bubbly, up-for-whatever personality and, in missing you, we’ve learned to love what we’ve got in this great city while we’re still here.  It’s like Kendall says. . .

“You can sleep when you’re dead!” “don’t be a Negative Nancy” “say yes to things” (you might just get engaged). Kendall, Whatever you say about your lack of luck, Ms. Murphy’s Law, you’ve taught me to be more positive—to just go for it and jump into things.  I’m a cautious one by nature, and I’d rather not make mistakes publicly if it is at all avoidable, but watching you evoke laughter and smiles as you chatted animatedly with compañeros, even when your Spanish wasn’t perfect, showed me how great throwing caution to the wind can be.  Which isn’t to say that a little prudent perfectionism doesn’t have its place . . .(cough Amrita cough cough)

Amrita, you’ve been my silent twin with the added bonus of computer skills, inexplicably accurate Spanish grammar, and an amazing host family that loves you so much they were willing to basically adopt the rest of us along with you.  Oh, how I will miss Gloria and Fercho and everyone! But really, seeing how hard you work, not only on making our videos and putting together our blog, but also on the little, often overlooked things, like bonding with compañeros and making sure everyone is having a good time, showed me how working hard and paying attention to details really does pay off.  Your amazing bonds with your host family, your compañeros, your cogestores, and all of us, shows how your caring and constant hard work pays off tenfold in the end.  I may even nominate you to be the next abuelita

Not that Gabuelita, I mean, Gabby, has any deficits where that is concerned.  Gabby, you are so sweet, caring, funny, and friendly that it is no mystery to anyone how you became the grandma of our group.  You are always there with a smile, a laugh, a hug, (or an external hard drive), and never stop looking out for each and every one of us.  You save us all the time with your Spanish-speaking know-how, and you are so easy going that you get along with absolutely everybody and can always draw a laugh.  You share that skill with our other G,

Yea, Gideon, I’ll admit that even though your jokes are the worst, you, too are a great addition to the group.  With your sweet dance moves and your “what do you call a blind dinosaur?” “a doyouthinkhesawus!” puns, you keep us laughing (sometimes at you, sometimes with you, but whatever).  And really, thanks for being the trooper, as Kendall says, and putting up with us girls—our chick flick nights, our shopping trips, and all the rest. 

And Stephanie, you, too, deserve a shout out as far as putting-up-with-us is concerned. Our complete inability to keep up with your salsa skills and never-ending Spanish-song knowledge might have gotten annoying, but you were great, always taking the time to teach us the steps or the words, ever so slowly and patiently.  That, combined with your Spanish-dictionary capabilities and your work as “Princess” of the blog, has helped us all gain our footing here, in the country that you’ve seem so at home in from the start. 

As for Natalie, this country is half-home to you, our Colombiana-estadounidense, and even though you’re the youngest, you’ve kept up with the rest of us, being energetic and hard working and always up for anything (you wild card, you).  And thanks for sharing not just the fun, light-hearted moments, but also for digging deep and imparting personal things to us, too.  It showed us just how tight this group could get, how much we trust one another and are willing to look out for each member of the group.

Of course, as far as group members who look out for us go, I can’t leave out Tam and Jota—one of our many sets of parents in this home away from home.  Thanks for putting up with our occasional insanity, our irritation at iMovie, our disgruntlement at early mornings and our confusion over certain rules (aka Arvi is out of the city? Woops).  We know we must give you quite the headache, and in the future, you’ll probably have to name a few gray hairs after us, but we hope it has been as worth it for you as it has been for us—you’ve made us feel like Medellín really is our city, integrating us with families and compañeros we could never have found any other way.  Thank you so much for taking this chance on us, and parenting us through it, every step of the way. 

So to all of my teachers/guides/fellow-students on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, muchísimas gracias.  I love you guys.  Let’s have an amazing last few days, and I’m so glad that you, my DukeEngage family, are all a part of this trip that I won’t have to leave behind as I board the plane home. 

I guess there are two goals of all DukeEngage trips. The first, and probably most important, is to help the communities the students work with in some way. The second is for the students to gain some sort of perspective on the world and to bring it back with them to Duke. Not that I really know too much about the other programs, but I feel that DukeEngage Medellin uniquely combines these two goals.

            Since the beginning of the trip, almost every person we have encountered has almost been obsessed with changing the American and world perceptions of Colombia, and more importantly Medellin. Stemming from its violent and drug filled past, it is no surprise or secret that Medellin does not have the best reputation. But in the last couple of years, through government programs and interventions, the city has undergone a massive transformation. But this transformation has gone largely unnoticed, especially in the United States.

            Not to sugarcoat it in anyway. Medellin definitely still has a lot of problems to work on, and bad things can sometimes happen to innocent people. But as long as you are smart and not careless nothing will happen to you. It is just like almost anywhere in the US. There are just certain places you wouldn’t go to at night by yourself. And there are a couple small cultural differences, but as a whole I was not culture shocked by any means.

By just living here for 2 months we are helping the city. We will return to Duke and the US and help change the perceptions of Medellin. No I wasn’t living in a rundown shack. No I never encountered cocaine. No I never felt nervous about my safety.

 I was living in a very nice middle class apartment that looked like any other apartment in the States. I spent a lot of time with young people living in Medellin who are extremely normal. They went to an excellent college, studied hard, and are now working. Just like people in their early 20s anywhere else in the world. I went out to bars and clubs far nicer than Devines or Shooters. I went parks, museums and fincas (country houses).

Our project will continue in the months and years to come, and by gaining a new perspective of Medellin, we have in turn helped the community we were a part of.

Last night, while the rest of my family slept, I sat in my room watching “Los Colores de La Montaña”. The movie is an award-winning documentary film about how the lives of a group of children in the countryside are affected as the guerrilla infiltrates their community.
It’s difficult to explain how different the lenses through which I watched the film would have been had I not been a part of the DukeEngage Medellín program. Firstly, spending 2 months in Medellín allowed me to recognize the paisa Spanish of the child actors in the film: “y mi balón qué?” and “hágala pues”, for example. More importantly, DukeEngage gave me the chance to hear the after-stories. The stories of families similar to those in the film: how they were forced to flee the countryside, what they did when they arrived in Medellín, and how they have fought hard to improve their lives here in the city. The film shows how the violence of the guerrilla affected families, whereas this program taught me of the strength that families of Antioquia seem to have coursing through their veins. The story doesn’t just end with the poverty and sadness that has come out of Colombia’s history, but rather it continues with the efforts and successes of the families we interviewed, and the thousands more like them, to better their lives. I definitely recommend the film, and I recommend – a hundred times over – that you come to Medellín and learn to love the people of the city as much as our DukeEngage group loves them.

Aug 11, 2011


For best viewing quality: click the "fullscreen" option in the bottom right corner of the slideshow. Once it's in fullscreen, click on the first photo to turn on the captions.

We love Colombia!

Letters to DukeEngage Medellín 2012


Dear future DEColombia student,

First of all, congratulations on getting into this program! You don’t fully understand this yet, but you are one of the luckiest people alive- get ready for the best summer of your life.
We’ve been asked to pass on some advice for you so this is what I think:
1. Do everything. It doesn’t matter if you’re exhausted, if you don’t know who else is going or where exactly the place is, if you’re invited somewhere by a compañero or your host family- just say yes. Don’t ask questions. Just be enthusiastic and say “I’d love to!”
2. Treat your compañeros like gold- and be greedy. Try to get as much time with them as possible, and not just the ones assigned to you- all of them. They are the greatest people on earth and they are what make this program special. All DE programs involve meaningful work, but what makes ours unique is this aspect that allows us to experience Colombia like a paisa- to go out socially with them, see their band play, let them teach us slang here and how to dance, everything a college kid here needs to know. The compañeros are who take us from being tourists to being actual residents who are living here for a few months. They, along with our host families, are who make Colombia feel like a home, not like a temporary destination. (Also try to talk to your host siblings and host parents as often as you can- they will give you a much better idea of life, especially home life, here in Colombia.)
3. Become friends with your cogestoro/a- he/she can make your life SO much easier. I recommend bringing them a present and writing a nice hand-written note after a few days with them telling them how much you appreciate them. My cogestora helped enormously with my videos, took me to families she knew to have good stories, and bought me ice cream all the time. I loved her!
4. Get a gym buddy that wants to work out as much as you do. I am very glad there was someone else on my trip as committed to going as I was, because the most frustrating part of the program is that you can’t go anywhere by yourself, so if I was harassing the people who didn’t want to go all the time, I would have been very upset. Just ask at the beginning of the trip who would be willing to go everyday, in the morning, or at night, whenever you prefer and then make them stick to it!
5. Make a facebook group immediately. Cell phones here are expensive to use, so most of our communication was via the internet, and it worked well.
6. Do as much as you can work wise- it’s worth it. If you have a lot of stories you like but are worried about the amount of time it would take to complete the final videos, just think about how many long nights in Perkins you’ve put in for stupid classes, and how this is a project that means a lot to the people in the videos, so a few all-nighters, in the long run, are well worth the effort.
7. Try every food at least once. There are so many cool fruits and foods here that don’t exist in the US. Some of them look weird, and the dishes may be foreign, but I say try everything even if you’re skeptical. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it again, but food is a big part of the culture here, so go for it.
8. Don’t listen to Jota when he says no one dresses up here. Throw in a hot dress and heels just in case so you don’t have to waste money here when you know you’ve got them at home.
9. Talk to everyone, even if you think your Spanish sucks. I have strugglebussed my way through many conversations here, but the people are pretty nice about meeting you half way and guessing what you’re talking about. Just smile and use lots of hand gestures and try your best to communicate. Even if you mess up, say inappropriate things by accident, or just feel foolish, it’s always better to try and laugh about later it than to keep quiet. They appreciate that you’re doing your best to participate and get to know them. (Once, I tried to say I was “amable” which means friendly, but I stumbled on the word and said “mamable” which means suckable…it was awkward.)
10. Appreciate what you have here. Don’t waste any time- go out and explore the city, party at night, make as many friends as you can, embrace the life and the culture immediately. Don’t take anything for granted. You will be shocked how quickly the summer goes by, so be active and friendly and happy all the time.

I’m so jealous of you right now. I wish I could go again with you. Have fun, tell everyone there I say “I MISS YOU!” and dive right in. Use the slang. Go to fincas. Go anywhere at all that you’re invited. Be as paisa as possible. Fall in love with the neighborhood you’re assigned to for work, and love the people in it. Soak in Colombia- its perfect.


To future DukeEngage Medellín students:

The Medellín program is one of the latest to start during the summer. While my friends were packing and taking flights out to Kenya, India, and a host of other countries for DukeEngage programs, I sat at home for about a month wondering and freaking out about where I was going and what I would be doing. Here is a list of a few miscellaneous things that I would have loved to know about the program at that time:

1. The first two weeks that you spend here without going to work will help you ease into communicating in Spanish, getting to know the city and people of Medellín, and learning how to work with your group.
2. Wear comfortable shoes, especially when you’ll be walking a lot. Girls: bring flats, and socks that go with them…rain and sweat and bare feet are a horrible combination and I had to throw out two pairs of shoes. Sorry if that’s too much information.
3. No one in our group enjoyed plain arepas…add butter, salt, meat, tuna, eggs, or whatever else is offered and you’ll learn to love them.
4. Because I’ve grown up in the U.S., the compañero program was hard for me to completely understand. My main concern was that these three 20-something strangers I was paired with would rather be spending time with their own friends than showing me around the city and taking me out. People in Medellín are hospitable in a way I couldn’t understand until I got here. Our interactions were never awkward, as I had imagined, and we became friends faster than could ever happen in the U.S.
5. iMovie crashes. Always be prepared. Back up everything. Our titles and subtitles were flaky and we had to re-enter them multiple times. Patience is essential.
6. Try the granizado de café (with chocolate) at the Panadería near Frutti Jhon. Our group was obsessed with it.
7. If you’re too tired to go out, or don’t feel like spending money, the aula is a perfect place for a movie night.
8. Get names of popular songs from your compañeros so that you can recognize them and sing along to them when you go to clubs. Dancing to unknown reggaeton songs is only fun for so long.
9. Don’t listen to Jota when he tells the girls not to bring dresses or heels. He’s just being a Dad. But only one pair of heels, a couple of summer dresses, and one fancy dress in case of a special event are sufficient. Jeans and nice shirts are most useful.
10. We started a Facebook group for just the DukeEngage students to post questions, complaints, links, plans for outings, etc. It was the most useful thing ever, especially when we were all sitting around at home wondering what to pack for the trip.

Contact one of us if you have any questions, we’d love to help out!!


Dear Newbies (AKA DukeEngage Colombia 2012),

To be honest, I don’t really know what the program will be like next year. Will Medellín Solidaria still exist? Will Tam and Jota decide that we young’uns are too much trouble and abandon the idea entirely? Will the world come to an end in 2012? All of this remains to be seen. So I guess I’ll just give you some basic survival tips and you, whoever you are, can take it from there.

1. Do not start your blogposts at 3am the night before they are due. Especially not when you still have an entire video left to subtitle (hypothetical situation, of course . . . editing takes time. Be warned)
2. Write about something other than editing, iMovie, and general frustration. For example, write about all of the cool experiences you’ve had this week (like going to a U-20 world cup match or the Feria de las Flores)
3. Bring good, sturdy walking shoes. Preferably waterproof. And not ones you are super attached to—unidentifiable brown murky substances are a constant on the streets of the barrios.
4. Umbrella, rain coat, change of socks
5. Learn to go with the flow. Don’t be too rigid about making plans with, say, compañeros. To quote Douglas Adams, “Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.” This is often the case in Colombia. Dates and times are a lot more fluid here. *Disclaimer: do not use this excuse with Tam or Jota. Just don’t.
6. Don’t pay too much attention to this advice. Like I said, it is 3 am. I’ve got an allnighter ahead of me. I’m waiting for my video to finish exporting. I’ve got 23 minutes to go.
7. That said, don’t forget the umbrella. Or the shoes.
8. And appreciate warm water, soft beds, functional cell phones, and cafes with both wifi and plugs, while you have them.
9. As for interviewing—honestly, just calm down, set up your camera, press record, and listen. Even if you don’t know what the hell your interviewee is saying. Just go with it.
10. And then take a lot of photos. A lot a lot. Tam and Jota will inevitably ask you for the one photo you didn’t take, so just snap everything!
*Bonus* (AKA my video still hasn’t finished exporting) Enjoy it! Explore the city, make friends, hang out with your host family—just say yes to things! (except for drugs—just say no to drugs!)

Really, I don’t have much to tell you. You’ll figure it out on your own. Just, pack your walking shoes and your rain jacket and leave your expectations behind. And if you can, take me with you!
Best of luck,
--Lydia Rose (LR)


Dear DukeEngage Colombia 2012 participant,
Okay, so school’s over with and you have to start mentally preparing yourself for this two-month trip to Medellín, Colombia. At first, you might block out the idea for a little while because you want to enjoy what little time you have left in the States. But then a week or two before you leave, you realize, “Wow. There’s no turning back now. I’m really doing this.”
You’ll go to all of your favorite restaurants and places before you leave. You’ll visit your friends and spend time with your family, too, soaking it all in. But the idea of being in a different country away from home for a while is looming over you. It’s the calm before the storm. Except the storm is really awesome (This all being from the perspective of someone who basically hasn’t left the country ever).
The hardest challenge you will first face is talking/responding in Spanish to people who think/expect you to be Hispanic. Or, at least, able to communicate well in Spanish. Going to the Miami Airport is a good test run. When a couple of us girls we moved from one gate to another, a woman came up to us, asking, “A ustedes van por Medellín?” The confused, frozen looks on our faces immediately labeled us “non-Hispanic.” We all managed a “Siii,” but turned to one another, laughing nervously, knowing this was only the beginning. The big test is managing a flight with other paisas (Medellín locals) and communicating with the stewardesses, possibly the person sitting next to you, and then immigration services. It’s all overwhelming, but you’ll have at least six or seven more people going through the same thing as you. I promise you’ll get through it. I was shaking in my boots when I first met my host family. But the people here are amazing and super understanding. Use hand signals as much as you need to. You might as well go for it instead of analyzing every single grammatical error you’re making. Just do it. You’ll get better at Spanish, I promise.
The first night, you will go to sleep extremely exhausted. Then you’ll wake up to some wonderful breakfast with either the most amazing cup of café con leche or jugo de [insert some fruit you’ve never had before]. Your first week or so will involve seeing the city a lot. You’ll probably meet a lot of important people who will give a lot of Powerpoint presentations, explaining whatever it is they do. You will be overwhelmed, but try to come up with some really good answer as to why you’ve come to Medellín. Memorizing that and keeping calm and relaxed will help a lot.
The second week you’ll probably meet your compañeros. I’ll be honest now, and say at least half of them you may never see again. Although there will be a solid ten to twelve people who will constantly invite you out to things, and you’ll get to know them really well throughout the trip. You’ll probably have an amazing time at a finca with them (which is basically a weekend retreat somewhere beautiful in or outside of Medellín meant from complete and utter fun). You’ll get to know the nightlife pretty well with them at your side, seeing Parque Lleras, Parque Poblado, El Centro, Barrio Colombia, La Strada etc. They’ll also take you to amazing gardens, interactive museums, and parks any other time you want to. They’re kind of busy though, so although they’ll be really selfless about showing you around, remember that they’ll be doing all that while they have work or school.
During the second week, work-wise, you’ll be prepping for your first week out in the field. Literally, everyone might be freaking out, whether about communicating in Spanish, talking in Spanish, interviewing in Spanish, you know, something along those lines. And honestly, it’ll be fine. There will be days in the field where you might make the families extremely nervous and thus, mean that you won’t get such a great interview. And you also have days where you’ll get an interview that you know will be in the final DVD. But just remember, you’re there to listen. And as long as you remember that, you’ll know that if your camera dies, or you forgot your consent forms, that just being there to listen means more than you think.
The next two weeks in the field will be exhausting, and uploading your videos, getting the transcripts, calling your cogestores for more information about the families…it all means that you’ll need at least a two hour nap every day.
After all of that, you start breaking down which interview you’ll use for the DVD. You may pick one or two stories, and then you’re going to pitch them; remember that you need to write down all of the information that the cogestores/families give you. It’s more important than you think. Yes, the fact that the mother you interviewed last Thursday was displaced from Moravia to Pajarito will matter, as well as the fact that all her kids have graduated from high school.
Finally, the last two weeks will be the most stressful. Subtitles, picking background music, providing/researching information about the neighborhood that you worked in, staying up really late…it’ll feel like Duke again. But it only last about a week or so. Your iMovie may crash. Twice. But I promise, with a little Red Bull and a lot of patience, your video is going to be kickass.
Right now, I have less than a week left. I will be buying as many trinkets, food (aka arequipe) and goodies as I can. I think we’ll all be spending a lot of time with our compañeros after the final presentation. Early Monday morning, when we go to the airport, we’re all going to dread leaving Carlos E. and the beautiful city behind us. But we had such an awesome experience here. I wish the same, if not better, for you when you get here.

P.S. The Papitienda next to the Aula have the best mora popsicles. Your job is to eat as many of them as you can. Good luck.


Dear Future DukeEngager,

As the abuelita of the group, I would like to share some words of wisdom with you in hopes of helping you through these challenging two months in Colombia.

#1: Patience is a Virtue
As cheesy as that sounds, I’ve found that a little patience with the project, with the compañeros, with your DukeEngage family and with the country in general, will make a huge difference. Colombia does not run on US time. While that can get extremely frustrating, you shouldn’t let that hold you back from trying to organized planes because eventually they will get done. Compañeros might make plans with you and show up late or change something at the last minute, but for the most part, new plans will be made and might turn out better than expected. Patience with your fellow DukeEnagers will also go a long way. You will not agree on everything, you will argue with each other, but you’ll also make some of the best friends you might not have had the change to get to know at Duke. I promise these two months you spend together will fly by. Above all, patience with the project is the only way you will survive. You will have tons of meetings with Tam and Jota once editing time comes around and things will get stressful. Meetings will be made and cancelled all within 24 hours of each other, but you’ll have to take a moment and try to go with the flow. Difficult changes will be made in your videos and imovie will drive you crazier than you ever thought a computer program could. In the end, you should be proud of the movies you produce and the time you spent interviewing families.

#2: Have each other’s backs
The group dynamics will change throughout the course of the trip and some might become closer friends than others, but in the end you’re all in this together. Your DukeEngage friends are the ones you can call to see what the plans are for the night. They are the ones you call to go to the gym, to watch a movie, to complain to about imovie, to get coffee, to feel homesick with. You will spend hours together editing and many nights together going out. The easiest and most important thing you can do is always look out for each other. Whether it’s a creepy guy at the bar or a problem with imovie, if you have to call over 6 times and send multiple texts to get in contact with one another, do it. Knowing someone is safe or passing along an important message about the project are essential for having a good group dynamic. I’m not saying you have to know every little detail about who is going where and why, but in general it’s always in everyone’s best interest to have each other’s backs.

This letter could have been about all the wonderful places I’ve seen, cool clubs I’ve been to and fun museums to go to, but I’ll leave that up to my fellow DukeEngagers to tell you about. Better yet, I’ll leave that stuff for you to find out about on your own.

Have fun, be safe & find your inner Paisa,
Gabby aka Gabuelita J

PS. Don’t listen to Jota when he says not to bring dresses or heels.


Dear fellow Duke Engagers. Here are some tips, things to know, and expectations for your trip to Medellín, Colombia:

1. 1. Prepare to wake up EARLY!

2. 2.Try a dish called Mondongo, you’ll LOVE it (just don’t ask what’s in it)>> pure sarcasm if you didn’t catch that.

3. 3. Colombians aren’t the best at making plans, so go with the flow!

4. 4. Not all things can be directly translated from English to Spanish (i.e. keep “That’s what she sais” to your group of Duke Engagers or leave it back in the U.S.)

5. 5. Do NOT, under any circumstance, piss off Jota. Ways to avoid this: answer your phone, do NOT leave the city without his permission, and if you do leave the city, you must call him THREE times a day. (P.S. Parque RV is considered to be outside of the city to Jota).

6. 6. Cabs are cheap here! Forget about an absurd $40 cab trip to Southpoint! Once you split the cab fair amongst your group, you won’t waste more than 5,000 pesos, the equivalence of almost 3 bucks.

7. 7. Don’t assume the compañeros or any Colombians for that matter do not understand what you are saying; they learn a lot from TV, movies, and music!

8. 8. Your home stay families will feed you A LOT!

9. 9. I didn’t know how essential the Facebook group I started would be, but it was VERY useful when our “wonderful” cell phones weren’t working.

10.10. Wearing heels to the gym is commonplace, so don’t freak out if you see Colombian women all dressed to impress without breaking a sweat in the gym.

11. 11. There is this wonderful place called the Hueco……you should go! (My infamous line here in Colombia…..oh you need_____, it is really cheap at the Hueco)

12. 12. Take advantage of all the opportunities you have here because 2 months goes by relatively quickly.

13. 13. You will receive these high tech cell phones that turn off on their own and have occasional network problems. (Suggestion: have people call you—its cheaper)

14. 14. If you have blue eyes and blonde hair, you will be stared at. If not, be prepared for people to be shocked. Americans are seen as monos—fair-skinned, light-haired individuals.

15. 15. Medellín lingo consists of the words: parce (friend), chimba (awesome, but if used wrong can mean a certain lady part), bacano (like really cool), and prepare to hear the words pues, listo, and a la orden A LOT! Also, the phrase que mas pues is real popular here (you should listen to the J.Alvarez song Sexo, Sudor y Calor for reference).

16. 16. Try to speak Spanish in front of the compañeros so they don’t feel left out.

17. 17. Prepare to climb LOTS of stairs on the field.

18. 18. Don’t be alarmed by the random security cops in Carlos E, they are only there for security purposes.

19. 19. Fiera de las Flores is amazing, but it is HOT and you will be waiting around for a while (Suggestion: do NOT go out the night before).

20. 20. Girls: guys will wink, holler, and gawk at you. Do NOT entertain them. Simply walk away and ignore them.

21. 21. Befriend your home stay families and compañeros because they will prove to be very helpful. Your home stay families make you feel at home and the compañeros will make you feel like a true Paisa.

22. 22. Dora the Explorer is actually in Spanish with English sayings. Oh, and the poor children also have Hannah Montana -__-

23. 23. Sevens have a dash on them (they do not look like this: 7). If you don’t dash your sevens, you might loose around 20,000 pesos when charging/recharging your cell phones.

24. 24. Fruit juices are to die for! Oh, and John, the Frutti John owner, has your back.

25. 25. iMovie will give you problems to make sure you write down ALL changes Tam and Jota tell you to make.

26. 26. DO NOT slam the taxicab doors: (1) it will piss them off, and (2) they will know you are a foreigner.

27. 27. Do not be flashy or wear lots of gold/silver jewelry (flip-flops to nice places are also seen as extranjero). Traveling in a pack of 8 Americans already draws attention to you guys.

28. 28: Girls: Do NOT listen to Jota when he says not to bring dresses. You will wish you had! Also, bring flats.

29. 29. Communication with your cogestor(a) is important, especially if Spanish is not your forte. They are really helpful!

30.30. Have fun, but be cautious. Never travel alone!

Don’t take anything for granted. I wish I could join you next summer, but it is your experience to have, and you will have a great time! If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at any time ( or

Chao. Besos XoXo



1) Try and convince other guys that you know to apply to the program. But if you are the only guy, don’t worry, you’ll still have a great time.
2) Practice Spanish in the free time that you have before coming. You have a lot of time in between school and the program so use it well.
3) Bring a lot of polos, you’re going to be going out a lot.
4) Make your own plans. A lot of the times the companeros are really busy, so look online for places you want to go. So find the touristy places and make the companeros take you there.
5) It is essential that you go to La Piedra de Pinol.
6) Pegram when possible. It will save you a lot of money.
7) Donde Chepe on Wednesdays.
8) Los Contanadores (Zona Libre) is by far my favorite place in Medellin. Check it out.
9) If you are confused about the purpose of the program its fine. It’s not something you can really understand or appreciate until you experience it yourself. If you still have any questions though feel free to ask me.
10) Don’t listen to Jota when he says that no one here wears dresses.